A night sky lit up with the flames of burning books at the Babcock Theatre Thursday night. The production "Good" depicted not only the torching of the works of Thomas Mann, Proust, Kafka and Freud but also foretold the fires of Auschwitz. Still, it was the tawdry smoke from the soul of one "good" man that was the greater evil.
Written by C.P. Taylor, "Good" is a tragedy in two acts. John Halder, an academic who has written a novel condoning euthanasia as a solution to coping with the incapacitated, is pulled into the Nazi web. First enduring, then pitying, then embracing, Halder seals his doom when his senile mother hysterically asks if he is a Communist. He replies revealingly, "Communist? I could never accept Communism. Parts of it, yes . . . "On a magnificently simple set, this tragicomedy is played out with the deftly used device of music and asides directly spoken to the audience. As Halder muddles through a breakup with his wife and turns his back on his best friend, Maurice Gluckstein, an eclectic assemblage of bands performs as backdrop to his selling his soul. Of Hitler's anti-Semitism, Halder tells his friend Maurice, "It's just balloons to distract the masses." To the audience Halder says, "He's a nice man. I love him. But I cannot get involved with his life."
Hitler youth march in and out of the scene to a staccato drumbeat. Sharp retorts punctuate each slip Halder makes downward as he accepts first his best friend's summer cottage, then a mansion and estate. As a "consultant" all he has to do is to develop the "humane" methods to be used to end the "pointlessness of the existence of human parodies." As Halder sets up the subterfuge to send the mentally retarded and crippled to their deaths in a room made to look like a bathroom, he is setting up the showers of Auschwitz.
"Good" succeeds on almost every level. Willard Knox as Halder manages three roles at once as he lives out his life, his surreal experience descending to hell and his bantering with the audience. He is supremely believable as an "Everyman" who is undone by comradeship, pomp and greed. Lucy Moreton brings his frightened, senile mother to life and Pilar Witherspoon makes Helen, Halder's wife, clinging and incompetent yet still retaining our sympathies. Frank Wagner's Maurice is Halder's conscience - biting and ironic and right on target. He is absolutely withering in his last scene with Halder, leading a Jewish boys' chorus softly singing Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.
Complaints? Tone down the profanity. And the constant "bloody well," "first rate," "digs" and "flat" are simply too British.
But bravo, director Kenneth Washington. We hear Pamyat in the Soviet Union. It still goes on.